Childhood Sexual Abuse: What to Look For

If you suspect that someone has been or is molesting your child, you need to pay attention to your gut. Here are some signs you may notice:

1. A mild or very strong personality change in the child.  He becomes withdrawn, quiet and secretive.  He cries much more easily than is normal for him.

2. You discover your child masturbating. This happens with both boys and girls.  It DOES NOT always mean there has been abuse; however, especially for a very young girl, it is cause for some pointed conversation.

3.  The child seems fearful of someone she used to love.

4.  The child is playing with dolls, action figures, stuffed toys, in ways that are overtly sexual.

5.  The child seems far more interested in his own sexual parts than he used to be.

6.  If the child has spent a great deal of time alone with someone (male or female) and then begins to object to being left with that person, you need to investigate.

7. Your child begins to do what, in my work, we call “acting out.”  I remember a set of foster parents telling me that their four-year-old long-term foster daughter came home from a weekend with her father and behaved in a very sexual manner toward her foster father, walking suggestively, pulling down her pants in front of him, etc.  All things she had never done before.

8. Your child tells you someone has  touched, hurt, threatened, or even just watched her in a way that scares her.  Always, without fail, follow up on these types of statements.  Children rarely lie about this issue.  If she is old enough to bathe herself, and her father, uncle, cousin, brother, or friend want to “help” her take a bath, pay attention.

9.  Older kids are better at hiding abuse, and are often threatened that the molester will hurt someone else that the child loves; or that no one will believe her; or that he LOVES her, and this is how you show love.  Molesters are extremely good at intimidating a child and/or convincing the child that he “wants it,” that it is the child’s fault.

The bottom line here is to pay attention.  Most molesters of little children are people they know and that they or the family trusts.  Sadly, this particular crime tends to stay undetected because the child is afraid to tell, or when he does, he is not believed.  It comes down to the molester’s word against the child’s word.  Guess who usually wins.

I feel as if I’ve left out something important here.  Hang on a minute.

Yes.  I did.  Three other things:

10. The child has frequent urinary tract infections

11.  The child seems to be in pain, may try to avoid bowel movements

12.  The child does not want anyone to see him undress or to see him naked.

Awful, isn’t it?  Even worse is that adults in the child’s life may see the symptoms and go into complete denial.  When that happens, the cycle of abuse and cover-up can continue indefinitely.

4 thoughts on “Childhood Sexual Abuse: What to Look For

    1. Yes. And they should. Far too many victims never say a word until after their lives have fallen apart. And, sadly, too many Christian parents, teachers, even pastors assume that the child is lying if the child does say anything while the abuse is going on. It’s tragic.


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